The most important nutrition you can get is from your food. If your health needs improving, your diet is where you should start. Everyone can make improvements in their diet and nutrition. Knowing which nutrients are essential to everyday health is a good place to start.
Why Food is the Best Nutrition
When we say diet, we aren’t talking about the newest fad diet. The definition of diet—the foods that a person habitually eats. Are the foods you habitually eat giving you the nutrition you need?
The best nutritional foods including the following—fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, and protein. These food groups contain essential nutrients needed to reduce the risk of illness and improve overall health. Here are some important nutrients you get when you focus on a fresh, well-balanced diet:
Strong bones and teeth are a vital part of overall health. But, calcium supports more than your bones. Calcium can also help lower your blood pressure and supports a healthy heart. You can get calcium from dairy products and dark, leafy greens.
We don’t talk enough about eye health. Vitamin A protects the outside layer of your eye (the cornea). Having a sufficient supply of vitamin A can even help reduce the risk of cataracts. It also supports a healthy immune system. Some of the best sources of vitamin A include carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and broccoli.
7% of the human body is our blood. Iron is mostly found in our red blood cells. Iron has many nutritional benefits. It helps reduce fatigue and sleepiness while boosting your immune system and strengthening your muscles. You can get iron from beef, chicken, eggs, soybeans, kidney beans, and fortified grains.
This is an important B vitamin. Folate is needed to make DNA and RNA and for converting carbohydrates into energy. It is especially essential during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It reduces the risk of birth defects and other issues. Folate is important for a healthy heart and has even been linked to a lower risk of depression. Fortified foods like cereals, pastas, and breads contain added folate. You can also get folate from spinach and lentils.
The sun. That is the first thing we think of when we think of vitamin D. Our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium. It also can boost your immune system and regulate mental health. However, we shouldn’t rely on the sun as our only source. Factors including where we live and our age can affect our ability to convert vitamin D. The best sources of vitamin D outside of the sun are vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, and cereal.
Where we need to make improvements
Unfortunately, the average American diet often lacks a nutritious backbone. It contains a lot of processed foods and added sugar. Our diet links to an increase in chronic disease and inflammation.
Did you know that processed foods make up more than half of the calories we eat? It is only recommended that we only get 10% of our daily calories from added sugars found in processed foods. About three-fourths of American citizens to do not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. What can we do to improve our diets?
The answer? Nutrient-dense foods! Foods that work for you and not against you. Here are some foods you should try and include in your diet.
Salmon is a fatty fish. But a very good kind of fat. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to the body. These fatty acids promote brain and eye health and help reduce the risk of heart disease.
This might be a little surprising but potatoes are packed full of important nutrients. You can expect to get potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper when you eat just one potato. Potatoes are also a very filling food, reducing your desire to continue to eat unnecessary calories.
Almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios—you can’t go wrong. Nuts are a great way to not only get a little protein but stock up on some nutrition. They are a great source of iron, copper, magnesium, antioxidants, and fiber.
Beans are a favorite among vegetarians because they are a great source of protein. They also contain folate (very important during pregnancy) which can help reduce fatigue and weakness. Beans are also a good source of zinc, iron, and magnesium.
This veggie is a nutritious one. It’s even considered a superfood. It’s full of nutrients that reduce your risk of disease, boost your immune system, and support your digestive system. These nutrients include folate, calcium, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
If you are looking for more protein in your diet but aren’t a meat lover, yogurt is for you. You can get 12 grams of protein in just 7 ounces of yogurt.
Yogurt is also high in calcium, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Some yogurt brands can improve your digestive health. Some yogurt use probiotics, or good bacteria, to help support your digestion.
Blueberries are a great snack because they’re low in calories but nutritionally dense. They are also often called a superfood. They are high in antioxidants, which help protect your body from infection and damage, and can be good for your heart and brain health.
Avocados are known for their supply of healthy fats. These healthy fats support your heart and can reduce inflammation. They contain a great amount of fiber and can even help lower your cholesterol. Avocados are also loaded with antioxidants.
Where do supplements fit?
When your diet is lacking quality nutrition, food is the best place to start. But, sometimes you need some extra help. Supplements should be seen as a support to a healthy diet, not its replacement. Taking a supplement will not erase the consequences of eating a diet high in processed foods and sugars. A healthy diet and a quality supplement work hand in hand to get you the nutrition you need and fill in any gaps.
There are certain conditions or situations that may require the use of a supplement.
Pregnancy & lactation
When you become pregnant, your OBGYN will recommend you take a supplement with a sufficient supply of folate to protect against neural tube defects. You should also make sure your prenatal has calcium, magnesium, choline, DHA/EPA—among others. Also, try taking a supplement while breastfeeding. You will need a lot of extra nutrition!
Women in menopause
As women approach or are in menopause, their diets tend to be low in nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin D. Your metabolism decreases which affects your ability to digest carbohydrates. Changes in hormones affects your bone health and can cause weak bones. All of these changes can result in nutrient gaps. Supplementing can help fill gaps during this phase and ease some of the complications associated with menopause.
Athletes need robust nutritional stores because they rapidly burn through nutrients. To keep up with an active lifestyle, supplements can help supply amino acids that create protein for energy and improved performance. Joint and bone supplements can help prevent injuries and improve recovery. Athletes should pay special attention to their nutritional routine as it is just as crucial as their workout routine.
Surgery or injury
If you have an upcoming surgery, a supplement approved by your doctor can help you prepare for and recover from the procedure. Your body will need antioxidants to fight infection, proteins to repair tissue damage, and calcium to support bone healing. The same goes for an injury. If you have a joint injury, for example, you will need nutrients that strengthen your joints. These nutrients will include glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils), hyaluronic acid, and bromelain.
As we age, our body begins to slow down. The effects of wear and tear begin to take a toll on our bodies. Our bones become brittle, our joints weaken, our cognitive processes slow down. Due to change in diet and an increased need to prevent age-related strain, supplements are a good way to get nutritional protection.
Allergies and restrictive diets
If you experience any kind of food allergies or participate in diets that leave out specific food groups, a supplement can help provide missing nutrition. Whether the diet is weight-related like a Keto or Atkins diet or vegetarianism or veganism. A quality supplement can help replace some of those missing food groups.